Career Skills

Tips for Surviving a Layoff

By John R. Platt

Layoffs happen, even to the best and the brightest employees.

Last September Hewlett-Packard laid off 30,000 people. Two months before that, Microsoft let go nearly 8,000 people. Two months before that, 4,500 Qualcomm employees received their pink slips.

Layoffs are scary, that much is true. But here’s the flip side: take a look at those numbers above. If you ever get laid off, you’ll hardly be the first person to ever go through the process. Lots of people before you have been laid off and survived.

You can, too, with the right mindset and preparation.

Step One: Get Over It

The first and most important thing to do if you get laid off is to not let the layoff take control of your life or your emotions.


“For some people, getting laid off is a terrible blow to their self-esteem,” says career coach Stacey Lane. That can lead to feelings of embarrassment or resentment, or the sense that you’ve now been stigmatized in your industry. All of these destructive mindsets, Lane says, will only hold you back.

“The truth is that most people you’ll talk to will relate to being laid off or having some sort of blip in their career trajectory,” Lane points out. “They won’t perceive it as negatively as you might.”

That said, there’s sure to be some pain in a layoff, no matter what. Worries about finances, healthcare and related issues can immobilize even the best of us. Understand that, figure out where you are financially, cut costs and move on, Lane suggests. “If you can just accept that there’s a certain level of being uncomfortable that you’re just going to have to tolerate, it’s much more palatable.”

With that in mind, it’s time to get in motion.

Step Two: Get Yourself in Gear

As soon as you know that a layoff is coming, start talking to people-even if you don’t want to.


“People in high-tech tend to be a little more introverted,” Lane says. “They go inward and want to process things. But this is really the perfect time to reach out to people.”

Lane suggests you start having what she calls “soft conversations”-touching base with people to ask for their observations about what’s going on in their own industries or companies. Then you can start approaching your broader network to see what jobs are out there and where your skills might be needed.

Too many people, many experts say, skip or delay these steps. They spend the first few weeks after word of a layoff working on their résumés instead of kick-starting their networking. Don’t waste those valuable days or weeks sitting at home in front of your computer. “Talk to people,” Lane suggests.

Targeting these conservations can help. “Think about standing out and making yourself visibleto the right people,” Lane says. “Ask yourself, who needs to know that I’m out there?”

The truth is that the people in your network will probably be your best assets. “In my experience, the most valuable job leads came from my network,” says software project manager Anjuan Simmons, who found a new job within a few weeks of being laid off.

That doesn’t mean you should neglect your resume, but don’t make it your only end game. In fact, you may want to wait to put much time into it until after…

Step Three: Look in the Mirror

Layoffs can actually become an opportunity to take your career to the next level, Lane suggests.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for self-assessment,” she says. “Really ask yourself, was I in a position that was a really good fit for me?” She points out that many people start in a specific role and then find their roles and responsibilities changing and morphing over time. Maybe that meant you shifted away from your passions or your core skillsets, or maybe it opens up questions about what you want to do next.

“This is a great time to ask what you really enjoy and where your strengths are,” she says.

You don’t have to do all of this self-examination on your own. As long as you’re networking, take the time to ask your peers how they perceive you. “Ask them, what do you think are my strengths, or what happens when I walk in a room, or what do you think I’m really good at,” Lane says. “These answers are almost always positive and they’re really helpful.”

This assessment process will not only help you refine your job search, it can also help you understand your own personal brand. That, in turn, may finally help you to crystalize your résumé.

Step Four: Focus, Focus, Focus

As time passes, no matter how much you’re on your game, it’s all too natural to let fear take over once again. The checking account starts to shrink, you get sick of sitting around at home and you start to wonder if you’ll ever find a new job. Panic begins to set in.

Don’t let that fear overwhelm you.

For one thing, fear can cause some people to jump into the wrong job  one that either doesn’t play to your best skills or that doesn’t pay you what you’re worth.

For another thing, the right jobs are probably out there, especially for people with valuable technology skills.

“My clients consistently tell me, it does pay off,” Lane says. “Just when they’re about to give up, they get this break.” The person they met a year ago gives them a call, or a peer recommends them for a job, or the seeds they have sown in some other way begin to sprout.

And that’s the last thing to remember: you’re in a long game. It’s not about just surviving a layoff. It’s about your entire career. A layoff might last a few weeks or a few months, but it’s just one step in a decades-long process. Embrace that.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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